We reached out to David Weston, Chairman of the B and B Association, for an update on the widespread calls for Boris Johnson to create a Hospitality Minister for the UK Government
Earlier in the year, Claire Bosi, Editor of the Chef & Restaurant Magazine, launched a petition calling for Boris Johnson to create a hospitality minister for the UK government.
The petition, which is now closed, received over 200,000 signatures from industry experts, one notable supporter being celebrity chef Tom Kerridge.
Any official petition which receives more than 100,000 signatures must be debated in Parliament. After a 90 minute debate on 11th January, MPs voted in support of the petition.
David Weston, Chairman of the Bed and Breakfast Association (a UK Hospitality trade Association), works closely with numerous government ministers and officials.
Mr Weston said: “It’s strange how Parliament and the House of Commons work, because they didn’t actually vote in support of creating a hospitality minister. They voted to say they will consider the petition.”
Mr Weston believes it’s unlikely that Boris Johnson will create a hospitality minister for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19 measures taking precedence.
He said: “There’s so much COVID emergency stuff still happening in government that re-organising the hospitality section is not going to be high up on their list of things to do.”
Hospitality businesses that can offer outdoor service or takeaway, started to welcome back their customers last week on 12th April. This included ‘self-contained’ accommodation businesses such as campsites and holiday lets, where indoor facilities aren’t shared with other households.
Indoor hospitality venues such as pubs, restaurants and other entertainment venues may reopen from the 17th May. This includes the remaining accommodation businesses, including B&Bs, hotels and hostels.
With businesses in the hospitality and accommodation sectors starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it became clear that there may soon be a need for a hospitality minister, more than ever.
Nigel Huddleston is the current Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage.
Mr Weston said: “Nigel Huddleston is very good. We’re just hoping he stays in place for a while because now that he knows the sector really well, it would be such a pity if he moved on.”
Mr Weston explained that one of the main problems is that previous tourism ministers haven’t stayed in place very long.
He said: “It’s crazy how they change so often. I think it’s been an average of like 1 every 13 months or something like that.
“If we had a brand new person right now, who didn’t know the sector, in some ways we’d be back to square one. At least Nigel Huddleston, with the year we’ve just had, really understands the sector.”
With the government being so busy with COVID, Mr Weston doesn’t think there will be a new hospitality minister introduced anytime soon.
“The best we can hope for is that Nigel stays in place and that hospitality is given more importance,” said Mr Weston.
“Ideally, Nigel would be given just that portfolio of just tourism and hospitality, with someone else taking on sport and heritage.”
He added: “To have a one minister with hospitality and tourism as their whole responsibility would be incredible.
“It’s about having the right people in the right place for long enough and making a difference. Having a dedicated minister who focused on nothing other than the hospitality sector would be great.”
Many businesses have spent the last year focusing on recovery and financial support, and as Chairman of the B and B Association, Mr Weston has an idea of what he would like to see from a prospective hospitality minister.
“Short term, there still needs to be continuing support and guidance from the government on how businesses can open up and get back up on their feet again,” said Mr Weston.
The B and B Association have plenty of actions on their long term agenda, which ideally, they would work closely on with a hospitality minister.
Mr Weston said: “We’ve still got some longer term issues that would need addressing, such as levelling the playing field of regulations amongst accommodation providers.
“But at the moment, everything is focused on recovery and a lot of these longer term things will probably have to wait for a few weeks or months.”
The government may not introduce a new hospitality minister any time soon, but the B and B Association will be doing their best to support the industry with the help of Nigel Huddleston and other industry associations.
Mr Weston said that for the foreseeable future, the B and B Association will attempt to coordinate things between the UK nations, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, particularly regarding international travellers.
He said: “In normal times, international travellers are a big chunk of business and it’s not at the moment, so we want that managed well.
“We will also be looking to promote some campaigns to get the public to go out and book to stay in the UK.”
Mr Weston explained that many people are still quite scared or reluctant to book staycations because of COVID.
“It needs to be undone to some extent,” said Mr Weston, “We need to get the message out that you can go away and stay in COVID safe accommodation.”
He added: “But that’s a big campaign, so we’ll need the government to lead on that.”
Despite some people being reluctant to book holidays within the UK, the industry is mainly optimistic with many businesses looking forward to fully reopening on 17th May.
Mr Weston said: “I’m always reluctant to say it’s fantastic, because there will always be some hospitality businesses that have been hit worse and aren’t doing so well.
“But the encouraging thing is that quite a few of our members have said they are booking up strongly from 17th May onwards.”
“Andy at The 25 who was one of the judges for the LBNB Awards tweeted they were 80% booked through to October, which is a good sign. I can see people in coastal and rural areas doing really well because I think people want to get away from the cities.”
He added: “I think it’s going to be a good summer for the industry.”